Widely considered to be one of the finest private fine presses in American history, the Elston Press achieved great notoriety for such a short operating period (just a little over four to five years). To the current day, it is a press that is very well thought of, but widely overlooked by historians of the printed word, seemingly for the limited amount of time that it ran.
In actual fact, the Elston Press (instituted by husband and wife team Clark Conwell and the artist Helen Marguerite O’Kane) was one of the foremost interpreters of the William Morris Arts and Crafts Movement, incorporating the Kelmscott ‘sensuous and sumptuous’ style of printing, with elaborate woodcut prints and very detailed typographic designs. Following the Kelmscott tradition, the Elston Press produced a number of William Morris’s short pieces, both individually and collectively, as well as reproductions of Shelley, Milton, and Keats in truly wonderful editions.
For the collector of the fine presses, the Elston Press is a wonderful way to link and to analyze the spread of Arts and Crafts printing from Britain to America, offering a snapshot of how the tradition sought to preserve tradition, even in the face of more experimental printing techniques at the time. Some of the best works of the Elston would have to be the Five Arthurian Poems (1902) by William Morris, set in the Kelmscott style. A good edition of this rather rare work would be worth somewhere in the region of £350.
One of the barriers to collecting the Elston is the fact that not many copies were ever printed, but those that were had a great acclaim and were snapped up into private collections rather quickly. Those that do become available are often mis-identified as to their true value – thus making them relatively cheap, but rare to find. Consider investing in Keats’ Endymion (1902) by Elston for a mere $300, or, should you ever find a copy, House of Life by Dante Rossetti!
Rossetti, Dante Gabriel. The House of Life. Elston Press (1901). 310 copies
De Bury, Richard. The Philobiblon. Elston Press (1901). 485 copies
Skeat, Walter. The Tale of Gamelyn. Elston Press (1901). 200 copies
Langland, William. The Vision of William Concerning Piers the Plowman. Elston Press (1901). 210 copies
Keats, John. Endymion: A Poetic Romance. Elston Press (1902). 160 copies
Morris, William. Five Arthurian Poems. Elston Press (1902). 178 copies
Greene, Robert. Pandosto: Or, The Historie of Dorastus and Fawnia. Elston Press (1902). 160 copies
Pope, Alexander. Rape of the Lock. Elston Press (1902). 160 copies on handmade paper
Lodge, Thomas. Rosalynde or Euphues Golden Legacie. Elston Press (1902). 160 copies
Morris, William. Sir Galahad. Elston Press (1902). 180 copies
Morris, William. Some Notes on Early Woodcut Books. Elston Press (1902). 120 copies
Morris, William. The Art and Craft of Printing. Elston Press (1902).
Herrick, Robert. Poems. Elston Press (1903). 260 copies
Shelley, Percy Bysshe. The Cenci. A Tragedy in Five Acts. Elston Press (1903). 180 copies
Apuleius, Lucius. The Most Pleasant and Delectable Tale of the Marriage of Cupid and Psyches. Elston Press (1903). 120 copies
Twine, Laurence. The Patterne of Painefull Adventures. Elston Press (1903). 170 copies
Wood, Charles Erskine Scott. A Masque of Love. Elston Press (1904). 500 copies
Daye, Angell. Daphnis and Chloe. Elston Press (1904). 160 copies
Milton, John. Samson Agonistes. Elston Press (1904). 120 copies